Getting It Right – A Referee Gets Creative to Help Fight Cancer


By Evan Hoopfer

Lou Levine always teased one of his friends about his friend’s thick nest of black hair. Before the start of the basketball season a few years ago, Levine thought it was time he called his friend.

He was joking as usual and then asked, “How’s your hair doing?

“I don’t have any hair,” his friend responded.

Levine’s friend had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. All his black hair was gone. The joking ended and the gravity of the situation struck Levine hard.

Just a few weeks before, Levine was at an officials meeting when someone raised the topic of Officials vs. Cancer. Levine thought about helping out, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about it.

But after that phone call to his friend, Levine went all in. Levine, a lawyer from central Massachusetts, set out to get donations. Since 2012, he has raised approximately $231,000.

“I’m trying to do something more than just being a referee,” he said. “I could go out and referee a game, but if I could go out there and raise some money, then it’s so much for the better.”

With permission of the schools at which he officiates, he asks people in the crowd for donations before games. He gets people to sponsor him. He said officials he works with donate their game checks. He does everything he can to try and raise as much money as possible.

Levine spends a lot of time on the court, which means a lot of opportunities to collect donations. Last year, he officiated more than 200 games largely because of the desire to raise more money. He donates his game fees as well.

The fundraising has something of a snowball effect. It has been a bit easier because the more and more he raises, the more attention his efforts receive, which means more money.

When he calls someone (he always calls; never emails) and asks for a donation, he offers to send them newspaper articles or links to broadcasts from TV stations to show his passion for the cause.

“Now, people know who I am and remember me from the previous year,” he said. “It’s the awareness part of it that I think is important. Even aside from raising money.”

Tragically, Levine’s friend was not his only acquaintance to be affected by cancer. Two of the referees at the meeting where the fundraising idea was broached died shortly thereafter due to complications from cancer.

“Everybody’s gonna get it,” Levine said. “Or, if you don’t get it, there’s going to be somebody very near and dear to you that does get it.”

He can’t help but get emotional when, before or after games, people come up to him and tell him they are a cancer survivor.

“It reverberates with you after a while,” he said, “that a lot of people are suffering from cancer.”

Evan Hoopfer is a freelance writer from Dallas.

Lou Levine is a great inspiration for officials everywhere. Lou has raised more than 200 thousands dollars in the fight to cure cancer. Lou donates all his game fees and whatever money he collects at each game to the American Cancer Society. Because of his hard work, generosity and selflessness, NASO and IAABO presented Lou with a Great Call award at the 2016 Sports Officiating Summit in San Antonio.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Short, Simple and Complete

By Jon Bible


Done Right, Onfield Meetings Can Be Effective

Much has been written and said about the importance of perception in officiating. Image is everything, as the saying goes and that is true not only of the officials comprising a crew but the crew as a whole. Little things that crews do and fail to do can create in the minds of coaches, players and observers the belief that the crew is in command of things — or conversely, confused and perhaps in over its head.

One thing that football crews often do that can foster a negative impression is to have conferences that go on too long or involve officials with nothing useful to offer. How many times have you seen games in which multiple officials converge to discuss what may be something as simple as a false start and to prolong the discussion to the point that everyone gets antsy? To be sure, when more than one official has a flag down on a play, all of the calling officials must get together to compare notes; what I’m talking about are crew conferences when only the referee and calling official need to be involved, crew conferences that are needed but involve five people when only three have something meaningful to contribute and meetings that go on endlessly because those involved are talking over each other, too excited and the like.

If, for example, only the head linesman has a false start before the snap, he can quickly communicate that to the referee and umpire, the umpire can immediately march off the penalty and the referee can give the signal and, if applicable, microphone announcement. There doesn’t need to be any preliminary signal by the referee or any other officials involved in the discussion; in fact, there really doesn’t need to be much discussion at all. The procedure in college ball is for the linesman to give the referee a visual false start signal, which the umpire will see; all the referee needs is the player’s number (if he doesn’t already know it) and then makes an announcement while the umpire marks off the five yards. Bing, bang, done. If others besides the linesman have a flag down, they will converge with the referee and the umpire to determine whether it is a false start or defense in the neutral zone (offside). But again, they do their thing and get on with it.

The same thing applies no matter the foul(s) and number of officials with flags. We need to be sure that everyone understands what has been called and what the enforcement is, but we do it expeditiously and without officials with no flags down involved in the discussion.

If it is appropriate at whatever level you work for calling officials to give visual signals, it sure can help the referee to get things clarified and enforced with alacrity. One example is the one above, in which the linesman has a false start; his giving me the visual signal eliminates the need for a lengthy discussion. If a deep official has defensive pass interference and, after he throws his flag, he gives me the appropriate signal and points to the defense, the tumblers of my mind start immediately working. As I run downfield to meet him I already know what he has called and I can calculate whether the foul is a spot foul or we will enforce the 15 yards (because that is how interference is enforced under NCAA rules). That eliminates a lot of talk and possible confusion, saves a ton of time and helps us to look crisp and in control.

In line with that, I do not give options to the captain if the choice is clear. That wastes time. If, for example, the offense gains six yards on a running play so that it will be third and four, but there is holding in the backfield, no consultation is needed to know the defense wants the penalty enforced. Once I get the foul and its location and the number of the fouling player — the umpire will know that as he will be with me when the calling official reports that information — the umpire enforces the penalty and I give the announcement. NFHS mechanics don’t allow for that lack of consultation, but the idea is be as brief as possible.

Being thorough but expeditious helps to move the game along and creates the impression that the crew is on top of things. Contrast that with the situation in which there is a lot of discussion involving a lot of people. The referee starts to leave and do something but  then he returns and there is more discussion, with officials pointing here, there and yonder until finally something is done. The reality may be that the crew knows what it is doing, but the perception will be otherwise and there can be a snowball effect with doubts cast on things the crew does or calls down the line.

Lest anyone misunderstand, let me stress that I am not advocating speed at the expense of accuracy. Sometimes conferences are necessary and it will take a while to sort things out. Ultimately, our goal has to be to get things right. I am simply saying that multi-official conferences should be held only when they are necessary; they should be reasonable in length, meaning that everyone who talks must do so calmly; and they should not involve officials with nothing to offer. If you don’t have a flag down or something meaningful to offer, stay out of it.

Having said all of that, it is essential to ensure that all of the pieces of the puzzle are put together at one time and before the referee does anything. Last season our crew had a game that began with an onside kick. On the goalline, I saw a flag from the back judge and then saw the side judge point to indicate that the receivers recovered the kick. The back judge told me he had offside on the kickers; the side judge told me he pointed the wrong way and the kickers recovered. Fine. I announced the penalty, noted there would be a rekick and ran back to the goalline. Tweet, tweet! In comes the field judge to ask why, if the receivers recovered, we’re not adding the penalty to the spot of the recovery. I told him the side judge pointed the wrong way and the kickers recovered. Off goes the field judge, only to tweet, tweet and come running in again to ask whether the kick went 10 yards or the receivers should get it at the spot of illegal touching. That meant I had to get the side judge involved to ask him about that; he said it did go 10 yards.

When we finally rekicked, with 14:55 on the clock in the first quarter, we had pretty well convinced the two coaches that we had no clue what we were doing. The Keystone Cops looked more organized and in command than we did.

First, kudos to the field judge. My rule is that even if you’re the one guy on the crew who thinks something is not right, stop the game and ask the question, for you may save the entire crew from disaster. But my main point is that we did not take our time from the start to be sure we had all the necessary information assembled and that all of us were on the same page before anyone enforced or announced anything. The play was a little confusing andthere was a lot going on, but there is no excuse for it having led to all of the discussions, meetings, etc., that ensued.

The next time you work a game, spend time in the pregame discussing the notion of having conferences only if clearly needed, limiting them to the people with relevant input to offer, having people talk calmly and not over one another and ensuring that discussions end with all pieces of the puzzle put together and all crew members singing from the same song sheet. Handling business in an expeditious, crisp and organized fashion will go a long way toward creating the impression that the crew knows what it, is doing, which can save its bacon when the tough times come.

Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the Big 12 Conference and worked the 2008 BCS national championship game.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/08 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – 5 Minutes with Karen Preato


Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.

Experience: Started officiating at the college level in 1998 and entered the D-I ranks in 2003. Currently works in the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Coast, Atlantic Sun, American Athletic, Big East, Big South, Conference USA, Colonial, Patriot and Southern

True or false? Double whistles are bad.

PREATO: False. When it is points of intersection, it’s a confirmation that the officials have the same call. We’re tuned in to own our primary and call our primary. If you want to come fishing all the way over from the trail into the C’s area, come on over, but you’re responsible for that. But I can make that call. When you have areas of intersection, you have a quick second on the court. You can’t look at the floor and say, “Oh, is that the lead’s or is that mine?” I think it’s instinct that you know where the play is, that you understand that it’s an area of intersection. You’re going to have a double whistle at times.

REFEREE: What effect does trusting the system and your partners play?

PREATO: It kind of goes back to fishing in the pond. It’s a regular job. People go to work as accountants, as doctors, as dentists, they have a job to do. So do officials. I know that if I’m in my area and you’re in the C, I’m in the trail. I know you have a job to do and you’re going to do it. The reason why you may not do something is because you couldn’t see it. Or there’s been times when a player pushes an official while chasing a loose ball, and all of a sudden it’s an obvious foul. I now know I need to go and help. So I trust him or her to give that official the opportunity, but I’m doing what’s best for the game. It’s not for the official, it’s for the players. It’s the right call. Trust your partners and work the system; plays are going to call themselves. Sometimes the official just can’t get to where he or she needs to be and somebody else can see it better.

REFEREE: What are common areas for double whistles to occur?

PREATO: The free-throw line, transition, screens, sometimes the top of the key when you’ve got the screen coming off the dribbler, maybe leaving the trail going to the C, and on a screen down in the blocks, the paint.

REFEREE: Art versus science. Can it be all science?

PREATO: You cannot get every play. You can’t. People put plays up and they say they want that called. OK, I can do that. Well, sometimes it is different when you’re on the floor. Sometimes you think you have the right call on the floor and you go back and you’re like, “Oh, we missed that little hold first. We couldn’t see this, but we could see everything else.” Is it really the art or science? You can’t get there. We joke about if they put robots on the floor and every time they see it, bam, bam, bam. You can just sit up in the stands, like video. Foul, foul, foul, foul.

REFEREE: What is more important: play-calling, mechanics or rules knowledge?

PREATO: Most definitely rules. I need to know what was illegal about the contact or the violation that I just put a whistle on, because now I’m penalizing the team for a violation or I’m penalizing a player and giving them a foul. I need to know if they established legal guarding position to draw that charge. Were they vertical to block a shot? Did they come through the shooter? I need to understand the definitions or the rules in order to enforce what I’m calling on the floor. If I call a push on the spot and now I come to the table and I report a hit, that’s bad mechanics, right? Now the coach can say to me, “Karen, what did you really see on that play? You called a push. At the table you just said you got a hit.” I’ll say, “Well Coach, she pushed.” I think sometimes we all get caught up in mechanics. We might have forgotten to close our fist for a foul. But I can give them the rule interpretation of what I called on the floor. Most of the time coaches see the play. They know how that girl got to that floor when it’s obvious. When there’s a questionable one, that’s when knowing the rules or applying the definition of why you’re calling a foul is important.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 06/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Line Judge Protocols

Line judges have specific protocols to guide their positioning at the start of the match, during timeouts and when the server takes a position near them during the serving action.

During the national anthem and team announcements at the start of an NFHS match, the officiating team (two referees and two line judges) is near the first referee’s stand facing the scorer’s table. The first referee will stand just outside the sideline immediately to the left of the referee stand closest to the net (looking from the scorer’s table), and the line judge on that sideline will be to the first referee’s right near the attack line. The second referee will be on the right side of the stand with the line judge from the bench sideline positioned to the second referee’s left. They will face the flag and stand at attention during the national anthem and then face the court during player introductions. Line judge flags should be placed on the referee stand during that time. After the first referee whistles to direct teams onto the court, each line judge walks along the perimeter of the court to his or her respective corners.

During timeouts, it is suggested that the line judges take a position on the first referee’s side of the court near the stand as shown in the MechaniGram. They should first allow the teams to clear the court and then move to a position at the intersection of the sideline and attack line on the first referee’s side of the court. Each should follow his or her respective endline and/or sideline to that position as opposed to walking across the court. Each departs that position as teams begin to break their huddles, again following the sideline and endline back into position.


When a server takes a position in the service zone that is near a line judge’s base position, the line judge should step backward along the imaginary extension of the sideline in order to avoid obstructing the server’s view or inhibiting the service attempt. That allows the line judge to focus on the sideline during the serve while the first referee pays attention for a possible foot fault by the server. Per the rule changes (see p. 59), NFHS is now allowing the line judge (if instructed by the first referee) to take a position on the imaginary extension of the endline until the service is contacted to have a better view of possible foot faults when a server serves from near the line judge’s base position. That alternate position is only needed if the server is within approximately six feet of the line judge. Once the ball has been contacted by the server, the line judge should return to the corner and focus on the ensuing rally.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 05/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Which Strike Do I Get?


By Don Umland

An old adage that we hear from time to time is, “When in doubt, call ’em out.”

While that is a myth that shouldn’t be followed for plays on the bases, perhaps there is a bit of truth in that when referring to the opportunity to “ring one up” versus the alternative of asking your partner for help on a checked swing.

Typically, the checked swing appeal is not received with great enthusiasm, especially when the pitch has already been called a ball and the base umpire overturns the decision. Depending on the number of officials working the game, the decision regarding “did he go” may have to be rendered from the middle of the diamond, which is not the ideal location for determining if a swing has occurred or not.

One thing that complicates ruling on a swing is that the rules are different for each level. The NFHS rule is whether the batter actually struck at the ball (10-1-4a). In NCAA, it is whether the barrel of the bat passes the batter’s front hip (2-38). The pro rulebook is silent on what determines a swing.

So what is the best option when we have a checked swing that appears to the plate umpire that he did “go” but would also be a strike had he not attempted to swing?

The obvious check swing is easy. Make the proverbial point at the batter and check one off against the hitter.

However, a significant number of checked swings are not that easy. There are pros and cons for going with one decision over the other:

The called strike. The called strike eliminates any delay in the decision-making process.

That can prove beneficial for the game, since the decision is final. Defensive players know how to play on runners. And those runners know they are in jeopardy if it was a potential ball four and they were running.

I also believe there is more credibility placed on the plate umpire for getting the pitch right in the first place. Keep in mind we are dealing with swings that may or may not be ruled a strike (not the no-brainer swing). So by getting the strike, the umpire will retain credibility as opposed to risking it when the base umpire rules the batter did not go. Nothing gets a pitching coach more upset than having a close pitch called a ball and the checked swing ruled the same way. Two opportunities for a strike to be called and neither happens.

The swing. Along the same line, an offense will be bothered if you get a pitch it doesn’t think was a strike, especially if the angle from the team’s dugout looked like the batter didn’t go.

If you are going to call the swing from behind the plate, you have to be right. It’s better on the marginal checked swings to ask for help.

Yes, that puts pressure on our partner that we’d rather avoid, but he’s got a job to do as well.

Often the bench may have a better “view” than the base umpire, especially if the official is in the middle of the diamond or if a left-handed hitter is up and U1 is working on the first-base line. The perception of coaches is that base umpires cannot get a good “look” at the swing from those locations. Ironically, if the opposing team does not get the appeal call it desires, the bench will make it known that you should have “gotten it yourself.” Essentially it creates a no-win situation.

There is no conclusive answer for that situation. But discussions with peers have led me to believe that the concept of getting the pitch first and the swing second can prevent larger issues regarding balls and strikes.

Don Umland lives in Bettendorf, Iowa, and officiates college and high school baseball, football and basketball.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 12/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Mad About the Media


As the public sees plays repeatedly on TV, the scrutiny of officials increases, and more and more spokespersons for officials have gone on camera in different sports. What are the media’s responsibilities toward officials and vice-versa?

By Matt Moore

Imagine participating in a discussion group about cooking techniques and one of the people you are chatting with is renowned chef Emeril Lagasse.

Lagasse makes a point about a cooking technique and another member of your group — someone who has never cooked professionally, but instead spent his life barbecuing in the backyard, drinking beer and sometimes going out to Olive Garden for fine Italian food — criticizes Lagasse’s comment and tells him he’s wrong. Completely wrong.

Now imagine if that discussion were broadcast on television for millions of people to watch. In all likelihood, Lagasse would be revered and the critic would be shown to be the fraud he is.

Now, instead of a cooking demonstration, the discussion is about sports officiating. And instead of Lagasse, the experts are former high-level officials, current officiating coordinators or state association executives.

And instead of the backyard chef, the critic is a member of the media who is paid to be either a commentator on games or a so-called expert on all things sports.

Instead of the reaction being the same — the professional is revered and the guy on the sidelines is exposed — the veteran is left defending his position and the sideline guy is believed by players, fans and everyone else involved in the game.

The cooking demonstration isn’t real, but the officiating one is all too real.

In a 2013 Sports Officiating Summit discussion titled, “Mad About the Media,” moderator Marcia Alterman led a discussion with panelists Steve Javie, Mark Hulsey, John Adams and Ralph Swearngin on the topic of the media’s increased focus on officiating.

The session opened with the scenario described as Javie, a former NBA referee and current ESPN analyst, offered a clip from an appearance on the cable network.

Javie, who spent 25 years in the league, appears on ESPN programming to discuss calls made during the postseason from the referee’s angle. The video he showed was from game six of the NBA Finals between Miami and San Antonio. San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili drove through the lane in traffic with 2.4 seconds to play in the game. He wanted a foul but none was called.

Javie was a guest on First Take, a show that features outspoken commentators Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, both former newspaper columnists.

During the clip, Javie explained what the referee saw (and didn’t see) on the play:

“OK, first let me explain exactly how officials look at this play,” he said on the TV show. “We have the last seconds of the game, a one-point game. The only official that can make this call is the official underneath the basket because Ginobili is going into traffic. Hugs the ball.

“Now, all the fans, what do they do? They watch where the ball is and they watch Ginobili, the offensive player. Ginobili gets compromised right away because if you’re an experienced official as this person is on the baseline, OK, watch him, he referees the defensive player, not the offensive player. …

“(The defender) put his hand on the ball first, gets contact with the ball first, which knocks the ball loose. Now once the ball becomes loose all bets are off. Ginobili is compromised. … (The referee) sees (the defender) enough where he sees hand on the ball first, ball comes loose, maybe hits the arm afterward, doesn’t matter after that. Once the ball is loose with the hand on the arm, no foul, correct no-call.”

Instead of the commentators being satisfied or appreciating the detailed play breakdown from Javie, they argue.

“Steve, with all due respect, I saw hand on flesh before hand on ball,” Bayless said.

“So did I,” Smith added, putting the expert in the position of now defending his detailed explanation against two people who have never refereed a game.

“I disagree with you,” Javie told both of them. “I’ve watched that play. I’m telling you we’re going to agree to disagree on this.”

And the conversation devolved from that point. So Javie was brought in as the expert and did a great job breaking down the play, and still had the talking heads disagree.

“That part didn’t really bother me because I figured that’s just them,” Javie said. “But they’re saying hand on the arm first. Well, they’re obviously watching a different tape than I am.”

Javie did point out that type of exchange hasn’t been the norm in his two seasons on the sports network.

“For the most part, being involved in TV, people really have their ears open,” Javie said. “And even just talking Refereeing 101 to some of them, whether it be a Doris Burke — who is a wonderful lady — she’ll sit there and go, ‘Really? You guys think that way or you talk that way?’ And I go, ‘Yes.’

“For the most part, except with two opinion guys like (Smith and Bayless), people are very accepting of wanting to know more about officiating.”

High Scrutiny

Officiating has come to the forefront of broadcasts in part because of the technology, according to Hulsey, vice president for production for the Big Ten Network. He’s also worked with Fox Sports and as the director of broadcasting for several professional teams.

“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t watch a Major League Baseball game with all of the technology,” he said. “Now, you can watch a local game and they’ve got pitch tracks of every pitch of the game.

“We have better angles, better equipment and everything is more scrutinized.”

In addition to the technology, Hulsey said, is the proliferation of sports on TV.

“Don’t forget, there’s more sports being televised now than at any point in our lifetime,” he said. “That unfortunately creates more potential scrutiny for the officials.”

One sport where the scrutiny has gone to its highest levels is the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Every game of the tournament — 69 of them in a span of four weeks — is televised nationally. In fact, for the duration of the tournament, Adams, the national coordinator of officials for men’s basketball, is in position to go live on the broadcast set at the whim of the networks that broadcast the tournament.

“For the first week of the tournament I’m stationed at Turner Sports in Atlanta ready to jump on the set when all hell breaks loose,” said Adams, himself a former official and conference coordinator. “The second week I’m at CBS in New York City ready to do the same thing. And then at the Final Four, I think they figure they’ll just have some guy come over with a camera on his shoulder and put it in my face and I try to explain what just happened.”

Adams is available because of Turner and CBS — the networks that pay for the event.

“I think the two of them combine to pay $650 million a year for 14 years,” he said. “But Turner put up 80 percent of the money, so they’re going to make 80 percent of the decisions.”

During the first weekend — the second and third rounds — Adams was brought on set to explain a late-game call in the Ohio State-Iowa State game. Iowa State led, 75-74, with less than two minutes to play and had the ball. The Cyclones’ Will Clyburg drove for a layup, but the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft got into position at the last possible second and took a charge, resulting in a turnover as opposed to a three-point Iowa State lead.

The controversial part of the call — and why Adams was brought on set — was the position of Craft’s feet. Craft’s right heel was elevated, but appeared to be above the new restricted arc. By rule, even with Craft’s heel lifted, he was considered in the restricted area and couldn’t legally take a charge as a secondary defender; therefore, the call should have been a blocking foul, the basket good and Clyburg at the free-throw line for a free throw.

“By far,” said Adams, when referring to the block-charge aspect of that play being the toughest call in basketball to get correct, not even taking into account the restricted arc. Even the commentators on the set with him in Atlanta were agreeing with the “impossibility” of getting every aspect of the call correct.

Adams talked to the calling official after the game. “He told me he had the defender from Ohio State establishing legal guarding position before the shooter left the floor outside the restricted area.”

Adams went on to explain the referee’s responsibilities on the play, with the arc being the last thing an official would deal with.

“His number-one responsibility in that play is to make sure the shooter from Iowa State doesn’t get fouled,” Adams said. The official “stays with it all the way through until the ball is off his hand. Then (the official’s) focus shifts to the body contact. I’m not sure you ever have time to get back and look at the feet.”

Turner studio host Matt Weiner agreed with Adams’ assessment on the initial play, saying the arc did nothing but “enhances the difficulty of the call. It’s not like Craft is still moving or he didn’t get there in time. He got there in time to take the charge, it’s just his heel is above the arc.”

If that were the end of it, you’d think there was no issue between the media and the officials on that play, but instead, the broadcast then shifted to a different anchor desk in New York with host Greg Gumbel and three former players serving as analysts for CBS and the tournament as a whole.

“I will agree it was a difficult call and it’s understandably missed,” said Kenny Smith. “And make no mistake, reputation also plays a part. Guys who have, let’s say, a bad attitude are going to get technicals. Guys who are shot blockers get away with goaltending sometimes. Guys who take charges like Aaron Craft sometimes get the benefit of the doubt because he’s a charge taker.”

The “best” was saved for last with Charles Barkley. “Referees make mistakes, players make mistakes,” he ranted. “We call players out when they make mistakes. We call coaches out when they make mistakes. We call out referees when they make mistakes. And I don’t care what anybody in Atlanta, Tokyo or Hawaii says, that was a bad-ass call.”

During the Summit, Adams defended the official on that play.

“Number one, that guy got the play right. That was an incredible call and an incredible situation there,” Adams said. “There’s not a human being in the world, and maybe a few robots, that are going to get that play. You cannot humanly — it’s not possible to get that play. He got it right in my opinion.”

Rules 101 for Announcers

Adams has been more visible during the tournament than any of his predecessors, and that’s a growing trend with officials being involved with media before the events, trying to enlighten commentators about how officials do their jobs.

Hulsey commented that his network benefitted from having the coordinator of the conference’s football officials conduct a rules session.

“Bill Carollo came into our office and actually conducted a video seminar with all of our announcers and all of our producers and directors on the new targeting rule in college football which (was) going to be a very highly scrutinized rule (last) season,” Hulsey said. “We had that luxury; Bill was nice enough to come down and he had video examples. And I can tell you if our announcer teams … don’t know the rule or don’t go about it in the right way, they have no excuses after the seminar that Bill put on.”

Hulsey said it’s not only the on-air talent that needs to know the rules.

“It should be the number-one priority for anyone that goes on the air; you have to know the rules,” he said. “And the people in the truck need to know the rules, too, because those are the people that are forgotten in the process. Those are the people making those decisions what replay gets on the air. Will they show the definitive call in that first look of a replay? They have more power than you know.”

And that power leads to the criticism of officials, no matter how good of a job they do on a given play.

“The media is part of our officiating lives now, and we’re going to have to accept it,” said Adams. “It really kills me, because I truly believe that the officials for the most part probably get more plays right than any coach or any player ever does, and we get the most scrutiny.

“The question is, why do you think that players can sit there and shoot 45 percent for the game and have seven turnovers, no big deal? A coach can put the wrong play and timeouts and stuff, oh, OK fine. But a referee who maybe had a wonderful game going, that one play at the end, which I think he still gets right, why is it we just get killed on it? Why is it the referee and not the other people?”

Swearngin, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association and an NASO board member, said it is people assuming they are always right when they disagree with an official.

“I have become a card-carrying member of the assumption police,” he said. “I like to go around and blow up assumptions that everybody else seems to accept as fact. And one that the general public has and that media people have a lot is the fact that if they disagree with a call, the official blew the call.

“I think that what happens then by setting themselves up as the experts, whether they’re sitting at home watching or they’re in the stands or they’re on the TV set, we have that basic assumption, and that’s not right.”

The next assumption Swearngin referenced is that the camera will always have a better angle and pick up every part of the play.

“The camera angle is not the always the definitive angle,” he said. “Think about how many times you have heard people talk about the need to get the right angle to make the call. And our assumption sometimes is with all the cameras they’ve got that the camera angle is always going to give the definitive call, and that’s not true.”

Paralysis By analysis

Educating the media to all of the nuances that go into making a call, along with the applicable rules has been a challenge for a while. Having a standard that officials be perfect is just not tenable, according to Adams, who said there is an “acceptable percentage of errors.”

“When you talk about the hundred decisions that the three officials have to make in the course of a 40-minute basketball game, I can go through reams of data and tell you how good they are at getting the calls right,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a guy that misses a shot, a guy that fumbles, a referee that maybe gets the call right, that’s sports. I don’t view it as a problem. I just view it as part of our industry. It isn’t getting any better.”

Javie agreed, while saying that he’s now a part of the media that analyze and overanalyze individual plays.

“It’s part of the landscape. It’s not coming out,” he said. “And it can benefit us too, now. Because now with Mike Pereira (of Fox Sports) opening the door and with Gerry Austin being on ESPN and myself, it opened the door for at least qualified people now to talk about plays and to say, ‘Hey, they were right or wrong for this reason.’”

And it’s better to have an experienced official or someone who has been in charge of officials do it than just the run-of-the-mill ex-coach serving as a game analyst.

“You have somebody who has done the job that’s commenting on some plays and not a Jeff Van Gundy or a Charles Barkley who has never refereed,” Javie said. “There’s some credibility there with the audience. But there’s a fine line also. We’re all human beings. We don’t want to be criticized even as officials. We all want to be right. And I know one thing, you hate when you miss plays, but also you hate being criticized.”

And criticism means sometimes saying that officials missed the calls.

“I know I’m going to have to be honest out there,” Javie said. “The funny thing is I think only twice (last) year did I disagree with a call. I didn’t sit there and say, ‘He blew the call,’ but I said it in a nice way.”

It’s a positive for the officiating industry that Javie, Pereira and Austin are invited to provide analysis from the side of officiating on network television. But because of the proliferation of broadcasts out there, the problem is more than just a national one, but also local.

Swearngin showed a clip from a webcast of a first-round playoff girls’ basketball game in which the commentators — likely students or former students without much professional training — critiqued the officiating at the end of a game, both for what was called and who made the call.

Swearngin quickly assessed that the two commentators had never officiated. “Not only were they critiquing the judgment,” he said. “But now, they’re critiquing the mechanics of who should have made that call.”

He said his state (as well as others) have rules in place to protect high school officials from critiques by players and coaches.

“Our coaches cannot comment on making negative calls about officiating in their game,” he said. “It’s a pretty large fine to the school for that. And if you have a contractual announcing relationship with the Georgia High School Association, you are not to be critical of officials’ calls.”

But most of those agreements dealt with radio, and now television. But there are more broadcasts than ever. “Now with webstreaming and this being a part of the school’s technology program, there’s no way we can really control the situation unless there’s some really bad situation that gets called to our attention.”

Along with locally produced webcasts, people write blogs that are critical of officials at every turn, Swearngin said. It makes it impossible to enforce their rule.

“Anybody who owns a computer now can be considering themselves a journalist,” he said. “A personal opinion by a blogger is something we can’t really control to protect the interest of our officials.”

Whether it’s words or video, the fact that things stay on the web for long — even an infinite amount of time — also causes problems.

Working With ’Em

Another tool that is available is working with the networks during broadcasts. Adams is able to watch all of the games going at one time during the tournament and if he sees an error, he can get word to the production team.

“I’m watching four games sometimes all at once, switching from game to game,” Adams said. “But when I hear or see a graphic that’s incorrect, I have a list of phone numbers to the truck where I can just turn to Lenny Daniels, the president of Turner Sports, who is sitting behind me and they’ll try to fix it right away. That’s pretty easy technology, you just have to catch it and then you can try to fix it.”

Hulsey employs a similar tactic during college football season.

“During a typical college football Saturday, we have multiple games going on,” he said. “If we have a question in regard to a call, we can always speak with (Carollo) or anybody on his staff to get further clarification if it’s a particular situation we’re just not certain about.”

He said that working for a network is a different scenario than working for a broadcast that is locally produced by an individual team.

“When I worked at the team level in the NBA, our announcers were employed by the team,” he said. “That’s different than network announcers who were employed by the network. You’ll watch some of these locally produced broadcasts and they’re in essence cheerleaders. And I think that leads to more potential scrutiny to the officials.”

Hulsey sees that it’s possible for local networks to eventually employ people to serve as officiating analysts.

“All these networks try to one up each other,” he said. “Mike (Pereira)was the first, Steve (Javie) and then it’s going to trickle down. Everyone wants the latest technology, the latest gear.”

One problem with that, however, is finding good people.

“And while we’ve just said that’s a good thing,” Alterman said, “after a while we could get some people in front of the camera that maybe we don’t want in front of the camera.”

That problem is most likely to occur in the non-mainstream sports, Alterman said. One, there aren’t as many broadcasts and second, the people who work for broadcast networks are not as likely to be knowledgeable about a sport such as volleyball.

“I watch Big Ten Network broadcasts of volleyball all the time and I’m going, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I could take those words back,’” Alterman said of hearing analysts talk. “We don’t have the opportunity to call in and correct.”

Interactive Communication

While the problems discussed so far relate to media not knowing or understanding the rules or what an officials sees, there can also be problems that are the fault of an official or a crew.

Hulsey brought a clip from the 2012-13 women’s basketball game between Penn State and Minnesota. The game featured multiple video reviews and ended up lasting almost three hours.

“There were many moments where we didn’t know what (the officials) were looking at,” Hulsey said of the reviews.

One of the reviews involved the officials checking to see if they had missed a potential flagrant one foul. Following that possible foul, play had continued and was stopped only after a common foul.

The announcer on the game made it seem she was trying to find out what was going on.

“We apologize we still have not figured out what the ruling is,” she said.

Debbie Antonelli, the color analyst said she was trying. “I’ve been standing up looking for their attention,” she said. “There must have been a flagrant foul call, a live-ball, intentional …”

Hulsey said that the broadcasters love to know what’s going on and they can relay that to the fans watching the game. Without it, the announcers are left to guess, and that causes problems.

“I believe the delay was close to seven minutes in that particular instance,” Hulsey said of the replay review. “It’s a difficult situation. I believe one of the officials should have run across to the folks, to Debbie Antonelli, and just said, ‘Debbie, this is what we’re looking at.’ It happens all the time.”

Adams agreed that is necessary, because it serves to benefit officials.

“I really believe that in this situation the media is not our enemy, it’s our friend,” he said. “And if we don’t go over and communicate, they’re going to say what they want to say.

“So wouldn’t you rather have them say what’s happening on the floor? And this way now, it’s communicated properly instead of assumptions. If there’s an unusual situation, don’t shy away from the media.”

Adams stressed, however, that officials are responsible to the game first. And only after the action should they explain.

Overall, the media scrutiny of officials isn’t going to go away. And it may affect our ability to recruit new officials, although Adams pointed out that there are bigger problems than media criticisms.

“I have two sons that tried to referee that were good players that really thought it would be fun,” he said. “And they couldn’t get past the first couple years of the crap that they took from coaches and parents. So by the time these guys are working games (that are broadcast), they’re well past that.

“The grassroots effort has to be instructing people to be civil at the junior high level and above. Otherwise, it just drives people out,” Adams said.

Javie thinks the good officials will overcome the scrutiny — not only from the media, but from the parents as well.

“I don’t think media scrutiny is in the forefront of somebody’s mind,” Javie said. “They either have it or they don’t have it. And they can either take the crap from the beginning or they can’t.”

Matt Moore is a Referee associate editor. He has been a baseball umpire for more than 25 years, mostly at the college and high school levels

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 04/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Softball – Keep an Eye on the Infield Fly


By Jay Miner

When it comes to the infield fly, we’re always reminded that the batter is automatically out when he or she hits a pop up (not a bunt) that can be caught by a fielder with ordinary effort in the infield with fewer than two outs and runners on first and second or the bases loaded.

Here are some simplified fundamentals with some quick tips and some recent infield-fly umpire blunders.

Play 1: R2 is on second base and R1 is on first with no outs when B1 hits a pop up in the infield. The umpires properly declare, “Infield fly! The batter is out!” R2 is 10 feet off second base and R1 is standing on first base when F6 prepares to catch the ball. However, the ball hits the heel of F6’s glove and drops to the ground. R2 does not retouch second and advances to third. R1 leaves first and advances to second and B1 stops on first. After the umpires inform B1 that she is out and remove her from first, the defensive team makes a proper appeal that R2 left second base without tagging up before advancing to third. The base umpire declares that R2 is out on appeal. Ruling 1: B1 is out and is correctly removed from first base. The appealed out on R2 was an error. Because the fly ball wasn’t caught, R2 was not required to tag up at second base before advancing to third. Both advances by R1 and R2 were legal. Play would resume with one out.

Play 2: On a cold, windy April day, Berne Knox varsity softball hosted a Schoharie League rival. Team B led by many runs and had runners on first and second with no outs in the top of the sixth inning. My longtime, semi-permanent partner, Don Willey, had the plate and I was on the bases. B3 hit a high fly about halfway between first and second. F3 pursued the ball but the strong wind carried it toward the first-base side of the pitcher’s circle. I glanced at Don and we both realized the ball was not likely going to qualify as an infield fly. We never declared an infield fly and despite her best effort, F3 was unable to touch the ball before it dropped safely to the ground. R2 advanced to third, R1 to second and B3 occupied first.

A large, irate man with a booming voice near team B’s bench yelled, “That’s an infield fly! You have to call that right away when the ball goes up!” Don recognized the man as a fellow basketball referee.

Ruling 2: Mild-mannered Don tried to placate his acquaintance, but the man continued his tirade that we should have called an infield fly. Though it’s usually best to ignore spectators, I realized we had to address his complaints before we could continue the game.

Initially, I was surprised by his outburst since our failure to call the infield fly benefited his team. Nevertheless, he continued to lecture us on his interpretation of the infield fly rule. I calmly told him that we can’t declare an infield fly until a fielder settles comfortably under the ball and that never happened. Then I assured him that the wind could have a bearing on whether we declared an infield fly and the wind was a factor in our not making the call.

When the man continued to disrupt our resumption of the game and now realizing he was a coach in another sport at the school, I assertively threatened him with ejection from the grounds. The pseudo coach then calmed down and we resumed and completed the game without fanfare.

On the way home Don and I could not recall any time when a team follower wanted an out declared against his team. We came to the conclusion that with his team almost positively guaranteed a win, he was hoping for quick outs from both teams to get the game over and escape the cold weather.  

The teaching moments of our experience were: 1. Don’t declare an infield fly until a fielder is settled comfortably under the ball. 2. Realize that wind can be a factor in deciding whether to call an infield fly. 3. An undeserved double play would not occur if the ball dropped safely to the ground.

Remember that while wind is considered before declaring an infield fly, the sun is never a factor in determining an infield fly even if it complicates the play for a fielder. The reasoning is that wind can carry a ball away from a fielder and that will not cause the defense to have the opportunity to obtain an undeserved double play. A ball lost in the sun and dropped near a fielder can easily result in an undeserved double play against offense without the protection of the infield fly rule.

Jay Miner is a longtime umpire, rules interpreter and former assigner from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 11/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Hesitation May Not Lead to Aggravation

Tips on how to react to post-play skirmishes


By George Demetriou

Whether it’s dry or wet, artificial or natural, the surface on which the game is played can have a marked influence on how the game is played and on specific plays. Muddy fields favor the running game. Many believe a slick field helps the players on offense because they know where they are going, while the defense doesn’t. When a runner slips and goes down by rule, no one credits the ground with the tackle. Instead, the closest defender gets the stat. There are several scenarios, though, in which the ground can be a factor.

The ground cannot cause a fumble. That’s an oft-spoken phrase in football. Actually the ground can cause a fumble under NCAA and NFHS rules even though there is no requirement for a runner to be down by contact. It would, however, be a very rare occurrence.

The veracity of that phrase lies in the fact that, 99.9 percent of the time, when the ball is freed from the runner’s grip as it hits the ground, the ball is already dead. It is dead because a part of the runner’s body other than a hand or foot had touched the ground before the ball touched the ground. That body part might be a knee, the side of a thigh or the forearm. Contact with the ground by any of those body parts causes the ball to become dead. Forward progress is marked at the foremost point of the ball when the contact with the ground occurred.

So how can the ground cause a fumble? While in a runner’s  possession, the ball contacts the ground before any part of the runner’s body other than a hand or foot, and that contact causes the runner to lose control of the ball, then indeed the ground has “caused” a fumble. As you can imagine it would be a most unusual play. The runner would have to either stumble and try to use the ball to regain his balance, he could “lay out” or be flipped heels over head, so that the ball contacts the ground before the rest of the runner’s body, other than perhaps, the free hand.

The ground can cause an incomplete pass. Catching a ball involves more than simply gaining control of it. It means gaining possession of the ball in flight and first coming to the ground inbounds (NFHS 2-4-1; NCAA 2-2-7). If an airborne player receives the ball and lands so his first contact is inbounds, he has caught the ball. Barring contact by an opponent, if the first contact is out of bounds, there is no catch and the pass is incomplete. If a player controls the ball while airborne, but loses possession when he lands, there is no catch. Thus, the ground can cause an incomplete pass.

One fairly common scenario is a player who gains control of a ball in flight while he is in mid-air. He then comes to the ground with a foot just inside the sideline and falls to the ground out of bounds. When the player contacts the ground, the ball pops out from his hands. That may occur either with or without the ball contacting the ground.

Some will argue that is a completed pass because the catch was completed when his foot touched the ground. Admittedly, the player has certainly complied with the exact requirements of the rule, but the key is “possession.” While it appeared to the eye that the player gained possession of the ball, the fact that the ball came loose upon contact with the ground is proof the player did not have sufficient control to satisfy the rule. That sort of qualifies as “evidence after the fact,” but that’s what the rule requires.

That principle applies regardless of where the airborne receiver comes to the ground: out of bounds, inbounds, in the middle of the field or the end zone. In the preceding scenario, the play did not end when the receiver’s foot touched the ground inbounds — the ball remained live. Such a play ends when the receiver touches out of bounds and, as described, the ball becomes loose at the time it is to be declared dead.

Let’s take the same airborne receiver and have him gain control between the hashmarks above the end zone. He then comes to the ground in the following sequence: first foot, second foot, hip, back. The ball pops free when his back contacts the turf. Is that a catch? One argument can be that not only was the catch complete when the first foot touched the ground, but the ball was dead because it was in the end zone. Again, failure to maintain control of the ball until the player has completely come to the ground indicates that the rule requiring possession was not satisfied. The result is an incomplete pass.

The ground cannot commit a personal foul. Perhaps that’s not as widely known as the first two phrases, but it’s certainly valid. That phrase was probably coined by Randy Campbell of the Mountain West Conference. Randy uses that phrase to encourage officials not to stare down at the ground after a play ends (a common fault among prep officials, especially when marking the progress spot). Dead-ball fouls, especially at a sideline, are almost always formulated in the mind of the perpetrator while the ball is live and executed within three seconds after the ball becomes dead.

In order for a late hit to occur, the potential offender must be in proximity of an opponent. Piling on or late hits near the runner are relatively easy to catch because officials tend to watch the player with the ball. Fouls away from the play are more difficult, but only because some crews are not disciplined to keep all 22 players in view after the play ends. It’s not difficult to maintain vigilance for three seconds and it is a key component ofgood dead-ball officiating.

Of course, dead-ball fouls can occur after the threesecond vigilance period. Opponents may begin the dead-ball interval with verbal jousting that escalates to physical confrontation. The syllables themselves may constitute taunting. Officials should monitor all bantering among opponents. If opponents remain near each other after a play ends, there is a potential problem and the nearest official should close in and let his presence be known. In many cases that will be enough to deter any extracurricular activity.

A common distraction to dead-ball officiating is the ball itself. Some officials incorrectly make chasing the ball their first priority after the play ends. That task should be left to the ball boys if the ball has gone outside the sideline and to the players if it remains on the field. It is OK if the game is momentarily delayed while the ball is retrieved. The teams will eventuallyget into the routine of taking care of the unneeded ball.

If necessary and the circumstances permit, an official can fetch the ball once all players have started to return to their huddle or a new position.

Written by George Demetriou. A football official since 1968, he lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/08 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – 5 Minutes with J.D. Collins

Getting to know the new NCAA men’s national coordinator.


Hometown: Hartford City, Ind.

Experience: NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating; former coordinator of officials for the Mid-American Conference and Summit League; former consultant to the Big Ten Conference; former D-I official for nearly two decades, including two Final Fours. Suffered career-ending injury in 2009-10 season; worked in seven conferences.

REFEREE: How would you describe the current state of officiating?

COLLINS: Across the country we have quality officials doing great work, night in and night out. That gets overlooked. Our missed-call ratio or our accuracy of calls, is extremely high. One play in one game can get a lot of attention, but our officials across the country are doing a great job. I’ve stood in the shoes they stand in. I know how difficult it is to do their job, and they deserve to be credited with doing some outstanding work.

Referee: Block-charge plays continue to be in the headlines. What can be done to increase the accuracy, and does the accuracy change from lead, center and trail when called from those respective spots on the floor?

collins: That’s a chicken and the egg question there. First, on any play, you have to be in the right position to make the call. If the play is coming down the paint, going to the rim, and the lead is in the proper position and has a good angle between the players, he should be able to assess whether the defender is legal prior to that crash happening. The reality is that the center official is straightlined with the defender. Can he see left movement of three to four inches? In that play, the center may not have the best look and the lead needs to address it. Positioning is the key, knowing who the primary is. Overall, one of the things that we overlook is when we’ve got crashes and bodies down, we need to seriously consider having calls. Too many times there are crashes, bodies on the floor, we don’t address the play, and then the game itself gets more physical.

Is there empirical data that says we’re missing block-charge plays? Because I’ve had access that says we’re doing a pretty good job of getting the block-charge plays right. If there’s empirical data out there that says our accuracy isn’t high enough, then we need to address that. But if we’re getting an acceptable rate, then maybe there are other plays that deserve more attention. Are we dealing with a perception that block-charge plays are not correct or are we dealing with reality and the empirical data that says we are or are not? In my infancy at this position, I don’t know that answer.

Referee: What will be your immediate areas of focus relating to mechanics and positioning?

collins: I’m a little hesitant to jump quickly, but what I will say is we need to do a better job overall in stopping the clock on every play, and communicating effectively. Once we blow our whistle on a play, the judgment portion of our officiating is done, and we become communicators. What we’re communicating to the table, to the players, coaches, fellow officials, has to be clear, has to be understandable and can’t just be my favorite signal I use every time. At that point we’re communicating a message, and it needs to be done with a purpose. Stopping the clock on every play will make us better. It will make us slow down and see if our partner has something different, see if our partner even has a call. Slowing down just a touch so that we keep ourselves out of the soup. Stopping the clock on every play is still in the mechanics book, and we will utilize it. That will be an adjustment that many of our officials across the nation will need to adhere to. It’s not that hard. It’s how we began officiating, and we just simply got away from it. That will be a focus of mine. It may be a pretty minor focus, but at the same time I think it’s really important to make us better officials.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 08/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Getting It Right – Soldier on After Tragedy

By Paul Hamann

stover picTen-year-old Chris Stover wanted to be a soccer official, but the rules said he had to be 11. The assigner “felt sorry for him and wanted him to work,” recalls his mother, Mari Stover. So he was on the field at 10, working youth matches just like his father, Rick Stover, a longtime basketball and soccer official in Vancouver, Wash. A desire to supplement allowance grew into a passion. By the time Chris started his senior year of high school, he was named Washington’s District 5 Soccer Official of the Year, a passion he only set aside upon his U.S. Air Force Academy appointment.

Rick says that all Chris learned in officiating stayed with him as he worked his way up to the rank of captain, piloting more than 100 successful helicopter rescue missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. “He understood the leadership aspect,” Rick said. “There’s a power position, but you need other people to work to get things done.”

Indeed, when Chris would show up for work at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath base in England, he would frequently bring coffee for the enlisted men on duty. “And enlisted people and officers don’t usually mesh,” Mari said.

Chris died in January 2014 when his helicopter crashed on a training mission. The unspeakable loss spurred Rick, Mari, their daughter Kelly and local officials to action. It also inspired an unexpected gesture of love for Rick before a game.

Rick’s officiating family approached Mari and him with support and an idea: to start a scholarship in Chris’s name. Capt. Chris Stover Scholarships go to local students who either play varsity basketball or are involved in ROTC. The committee, composed entirely of basketball officials including Rick, selected the first recipients last summer. Rick and Mari support other worthy causes, including the That Others May Live Foundation, which aids families and children of Air Force rescue heroes killed or severely wounded in their duties.

Rick received a simple but poignant bit of support before a high school girls’ basketball game in December. Right before the national anthem — always a difficult moment for Rick — he noticed that one player from each team had walked over to stand next to him. “I had no idea,” he said. “All of a sudden they roll the flag down, and I thought, ‘Why are two players standing beside me?’ And then I figured it out.”

The two coaches told Rick they had organized the show of support in order to humanize the people wearing stripes and to remind them of the importance of relationships in sports.
That’s a lesson that Rick Stover and his fellow officials continue to pass on in memory of a fellow official turned hero.

Paul Hamann has officiated high school basketball since 1996. He is a high school teacher who lives in Vancouver, Wash.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 07/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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